19th March 1976. Parting of the Ways.
It was as a result of the possibility that illegitimacy could confuse the right to the throne, that from the reign of Queen Anne, all births had to be witnesses by the Secretary of State.
It was a tradition not to be rescinded, until 1930 with the birth of Princess Margaret, younger sister of Elizabeth II, daughter of the Duke of York, later King, when his brother abdicated.
The Announcement of the separation of Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon took place Today in 1976. Two years’ later they divorced, thus being the first British Royal to do so since Henry VIII.
British history is littered with remnants of legislation intended for a previous age. One was the requirement that members of the British Royal family require the consent of the monarch, under the Great Seal, to get married.
The law despite opposition from radical, Charles James Fox. goes back to the 1772 Act of Lord North, at the request of George III, after two of his brothers, William Duke of Gloucester and Henry Duke of Cumberland had married commoners. (1)
In the mid-1950s Margaret had been forced to end her romance with divorcee Peter Townsend, as the 1772 Royal Marriages Act stipulated that all descendants of George II, the King’s grandfather, must have the Monarch’s permission to marry.
Townsend was divorced and this meant that the Queen, as head of the Church of England would be bound to refuse.
Margaret, though near the age of twenty-five, when she could apply to the Privy Council for permission, eventually agreed not to go ahead. The decision blighted the rest of her life.
Margaret’s divorce seemed to set a precedence, for the Queen’s children, as it was to be followed by Princess Anne from Mark Phillips, Prince Andrew from Sarah Fergusson and finally Prince Charles from Diana, so ¾ of the Queen’s children had failed marriages.
Back in the 19th century, Victoria and her devotion to her consort Prince Albert, set a high standard of probity and the Royal Family was regarded as the epitome of family life, despite the errant Edward VII’s three mistresses.
George V was a staid and well-intentioned monarch supported by Queen Mary, and one could never imagine him straying from the moral line of duty.
It was not until his son, as Edward VIII, that we see any sign of deviation from the accepted royal tradition resulting in widespread acrimony with the nation taking sides.
It was to lead to his abdication, and the assumption of the throne by his diffident, stammering brother ‘Bertie’, as George VI, when stability of family life ensued.
The 2013 Act modernized Royal marriage, when marrying a Catholic, by the heir to the Throne, was permitted, though the monarch still had to be a Protestant. Automatic male primogeniture was abolished, so if the first born was a female, she would inherit.
(1) The King’s younger brother Cumberland had previously secretly married Lady Anne Horton a highly disreputable widow of a commoner.